The Biden administration and Naftali Bennett’s Israeli government took office in close succession, just five months apart. I noted earlier this year that this is the third time in two decades that an American presidential succession coincided with an Israeli coalition turnover. Unlike the last time—Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu in 2009—Biden and Bennett seemed at first to share a common cause: keeping good relations by avoiding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Less than a week into Biden’s term, the acting American ambassador to the United Nations delivered a statement to the U.N. Security Council acknowledging just how far apart the parties were politically. Bennett, for his part, pledged that his ideologically mixed government would pursue neither annexation nor Palestinian statehood. Simple enough, right? Yet however well-intentioned this formula was, it laid the groundwork for potential problems later on.

There are surely those who view Israel as bearing more responsibility for the conflict and would like to see more American pressure in Bennett’s direction, or those who assign more blame to the Palestinians, and want to see Washington act accordingly. But the basic premise of no peace plan and no annexation is hard to quibble with. Readers of Israel Policy Forum’s work are likely familiar with the myriad problems annexation could spell for both sides, as well as the United States. On the other hand, even a well-conceived peace proposal between Mahmoud Abbas and Netanyahu would have been dead on arrival, even more so under Bennett. As I argued in Haaretz during President Trump’s tenure, there is a real political cost to advancing peace plans when it is clear they are going nowhere.

The problem is that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not just about annexation and final status treaties. The thing is, Defense Minister Benney Gantz’s recent designation of six Palestinian civil society NGOs as terrorist organizations is a part of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The emerging dispute over the reopening of the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem is part of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Settler violence is part of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. So are E1, Givat Hamatos, and Sheikh Jarrah.

Some of these issues took on lives of their own, having started before the notion that Bennett might be prime minister even seemed realistic. This is almost certainly the case with the contentious settlements in the Jerusalem area and the dispute over Sheikh Jarrah. However, if the Bennett government wants to hold true to its stated goal of keeping the conflict on the backburner and maintaining good ties with the U.S., it needs to arrest these processes. In E1 and Givat Hamatos, this would require Gantz’s intervention as minister of defense. Sheikh Jarrah is a bit more complicated. The state has been reluctant under both Netanyahu and Bennett to intervene in the legal proceedings; with the deadline for the neighborhood’s Palestinian residents and the settler organization Nahalat Shimon to respond to a court-proposed compromise coming up tomorrow, there is even greater urgency for action. 

Other potential sources of discord look more like own goals. The Palestinian NGO situation followed an apparent communications breakdown between the coalition’s most senior officials. Both Prime Minister Bennett and Alternate Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid are pleading ignorance, alleging that Gantz did not tell them what he was planning to do. That might have offered the Israelis a chance to walk back their decision. Instead, the government is doubling down, dispatching a delegation, including representatives of Lapid’s foreign ministry, to Washington last week to share intelligence that Israel claims validates Gantz’s actions. Even some criticism from more left-wing members of the coalition, such as Labor leader Merav Michaeli, focused on how the decision was promulgated while not necessarily disputing the substance of the decision itself.

The consulate issue is another area in which the Israeli government can control the shape of events, but is staying the course toward a collision with President Biden. Under the Trump administration, the U.S. closed its Jerusalem consulate, which had acted as a de facto conduit for American-Palestinian relations, subsuming them into the operations of the U.S. Embassy to Israel as the Palestinian Affairs Unit. The Biden administration wants to walk that move back. The Israeli government, which must approve the reopening of the mission, is trying to preserve the Trump policy. For the right-wing of the coalition, it’s a matter of ideological importance. For some of the left- and center-leaning politicians in the government, there is the claim that the consulate reopening will bring down the government or provide an opportunity for opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu. While the Biden administration has taken an understandably delicate touch to its interactions with the government, the U.S. should not accept the notion that the government would fall over the consulate at face value. It’s certainly possible. But that would mean right-wing members of the coalition, whose defection from the pro-Netanyahu right could be a political liability at the ballot box, entertaining the possibility of a new election. As far as Netanyahu lashing out, the Likud leader has never let facts get in the way of attacks on his political opponents, and even though no progress has been made on the consulate, criticisms and rumors already abound in Israel’s right-wing press. Finally, the more the Bennett government asks for leniency from the White House on matters of Israeli-American disagreement, the less compelling the case for the U.S. to comply with those requests. Policies like recent confidence-building measures with the Palestinians do set the current Israeli government apart from a potential coalition under Netanyahu, but each exception the U.S. grants marks one less difference between the two. The argument for political sensitivity from the U.S. should also become less potent if and when the Knesset passes a state budget later this week, shoring up the government’s long-term viability.

Joe Biden and Naftali Bennett’s shared objective of keeping the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on the backburner while maintaining good bilateral ties makes sense on its surface, but this approach may become increasingly difficult to maintain. Once you get past big-ticket items like annexation or a final-status agreement, the conflict is bound to find its way back into U.S.-Israel relations in new and more vexing ways.